Mental health issues — and works of activism to remove the stigma surrounding them — are in the forefront of today’s media. As a person who has struggled with anxiety for really as long as I can remember, that’s a good thing! I’ve also been in a long-distance relationship for a little more than a year. It’s tough, but it’s doable.
In my opinion, the thing with long-distance relationships is that they have the same issues as “normal” relationships — everything just has a bigger effect. This includes anxiety. Whether it’s you or your partner who’s dealing with this problem, I’m going to try and provide my insights into managing it and not letting it have a negative effect on your relationship.
All of this being said, I’d like to point out that these are things that work for me and for my relationship. The thing about anxiety is that it has a different effect on everyone, so use this more as a guideline and tweak my suggestions to work for you. Here is how I cope with anxiety in a long-distance relationship.
When You Have Anxiety
I’ll start this off by saying, ugh , I know it sucks. You have all of my empathy in the world, and I truly understand how you’re feeling. Whether you’ve just realized that you have an anxiety problem or you’ve been dealing with it for years, whether you’re undiagnosed, or you’ve been seeing doctors and therapists you’re whole life, it all just sucks.
My first advice to you is to just be honest with your partner. Be open about triggers, things that upset you or give you panic attacks as well as things that make you feel good when you’re having a fit of anxiety so they know how to help. When you’re having a bad day, let them know. To people who get to be around you in person, it might be obvious to them how to treat you because they can see your physical signs of anxiety. However, if you’re doing long distance with your partner, they don’t get to see that physical side of you so much.
When I’m having a bad anxiety day, I often tell my boyfriend very plainly, “I’m feeling anxious today.” That way your partner knows if they maybe need to give you more attention or if they need to give you space.
Unfortunately, when your partner is far away, you don’t get the physical support from them. You can get reassuring text messages from them, you can Skype them, you can talk on the phone, but none of these will match up to having your boyfriend or girlfriend there holding you and telling you that everything is OK. That means that you may have to develop some techniques that you can use by yourself. Here are some things that I do to soothe myself:
- Music: I have a playlist on my phone of songs that bring comfort to me or are associated with happy memories.
- Journal: I carry a notebook with me, as I love to write, and sometimes if I’m in
situations that I’m not comfortable with, I can pull it out and doodle or write something to take my mind off of anxiety.
- Apps: I have an app on my phone, called Self-help for Anxiety Management (SAM), and it’s really good as it has a lot of tips, you can track your anxiety levels, and there are games and activities for you to play when you start feeling anxious or panicky.
- Visualization: I learned a method recently called Safe Space, which is a visualization
technique where you think about a place you feel totally calm and what
you would be doing and you would be there. It takes a little bit of practice, but I recommend researching it and giving it a go.
- Breathe: Consciously think about your breathing, acknowledge that you feel anxious or are having a panic attack, and say out loud, “I am OK.”
Unfortunately, another side effect of anxiety is that you’re often a bit more sensitive. If you’re like me, anyway, you’re maybe hurt a little easier and can find yourself reading deeply into things that other people would think nothing of. It’s easy for these things to factor into your relationships, especially a long-distance relationship because the more you love someone and the more attached you are to someone, the more devastating these feelings seem.
When you make a commitment and decide to be in a relationship with someone, you have to have a certain level of respect for that person. You now have to think of them before you do things, and that means you have to be open. No matter how bad your anxiety is, pulling away and leaving them in the dark for long periods of time is not fair. No matter how crappy you’re feeling, you don’t have the right to mistreat your partner. I know it sucks when all you want to do is shut the world out and go to sleep, but you have to at least keep them informed.
When Your Partner Has Anxiety
Another ugh . This sucks, too, especially in a long-distance relationship. It hurts to see your partner going through something tough when you can’t physically be there with them. The best advice I can give to you is to just be available. If your partner has told you that something has triggered anxiety, just be there for them in a way that you know is good for them. That might mean Skyping or talking on the phone. It might mean just letting them vent to you. They might want you to talk them down over text, or they may just want space, and you can check in on them periodically.
Anxiety is subjective, and different things work for different people, so don’t try to fit them into a mold based on something you’ve seen on television, read on the internet or experienced with other people. Talk to your partner about what they are comfortable with in a time when they aren’t having an anxiety episode so that you can be ready to help if it happens . There’s nothing worse than receiving the panicky text messages or the upset Skype call and not knowing what to do. If this does happen and you haven’t talked about ways they like to be consoled, try going for really simple yet reassuring phrases. They may not mean much to you, but they show you’re putting in effort.
I remember a couple of times getting very anxious and panicky, and my boyfriend said things like, “Just breathe” and, “We’re OK.” I don’t imagine that he realized how much things like that help when he said them because they’re just two-word phrases, but to me, it means the world to just know that he’s there for me.
The last thing I want to say to people who have a long-distance partner struggling with anxiety is that they wouldn’t be magically fixed if you lived together. Their mental illness has nothing to do with you, which means you’ve done nothing wrong, and you have no reason to be guilty for living far away.
It’s also 100 percent valid to get frustrated sometimes. You still have feelings, and you have a voice, so having frequent conversations about what you need is important, too. Your job is not to fix your partner. It is to be there for them as support in any way that you can, and when you’re long distance, sometimes the best you can do doesn’t feel like very much. Remember that your partner loves you and that your support likely means the world to them.
I just want to repeat again that anxiety is different for everyone , so you need to really talk to your partner in know them inside and out. I think in a “normal” relationship, you can get away with being a bit less open in a way because there are physical signs that you can read. When you’re long distance, you have to be much more blunt with your communication. It takes some work, but at the end of the day if your life is better with your significant other in it than without, then in my opinion, it is worth it.